Under posts or in short videos on TikTok, Instagram & Co. they can be read more and more often: Terms in cryptic spellings, such as “Seggs” or “d1ck. If you say the words out loud to yourself, you usually know immediately what is meant. But what is it all about?
Changing the spelling of certain words, abbreviations or inventing completely new vocabulary is used by users to circumvent the algorithm. Because the algorithm automatically removes illegal content but also terms related to porn and sex. Very special TikTok or the company behind it, ByteDance, is accused of censorship on the platform: Videos with certain content, e.g. from queer people, are suppressed.
The term Algospeak is composed of “algo”, as an abbreviation of algorithm, and “speak”, the English word for “to speak”. Algospeak is constantly changing as the platforms keep adjusting their algorithm.
The universal language on the Internet is English. Many users from Germany mix German or other languages with English online. Therefore, the algorithm cannot distinguish certain terms. For example, the English “dick” is censored, even if nothing offensive is meant by it in German. Thus, it happens that even harmless content is deleted.
Algospeak not only serves to circumvent possible censorship, thereby making many different voices and opinions visible. People who manipulate opinions and spread hatred can also use them to circumvent technical hurdles and laws. If you notice that Algospeak is used to disguise hate speech and insults, be sure to report such cases. Make your child aware of this feature as well.
As a parent, don’t be surprised if you come across unusual spellings on social media. This doesn’t have to mean that your child can’t spell. Get an explanation if you don’t understand something, and also explain to your child if he or she wonders about funny spellings.
So Algospeak is not a real secret language – at most for the algorithm.